As any Cowboys fan knows by now, the defense is going to be missing some players in September due to suspensions. Right now, two players have confirmed bans and two more are facing likely penalties. How might these suspensions impact the Cowboys roster decisions between now and Week One?
Here is a quick rundown of what we know right now regarding these suspensions:
- David Irving, DL – Suspended four games for violating the NFL's policy on the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Will return Week 5.
- Damontre Moore, DE – Suspended two games for violating the substance-abuse policy. Will return Week 3.
- Nolan Carroll, CB – Facing a likely two-game ban for a DWI arrest in May.
- Damien Wilson, LB – Will almost surely be disciplined under the personal conduct policy for his arrest on assault charges earlier this month. Wilson's situation is by far the cloudiest and hard to predict.
Dallas will still have a 53-man roster even without these players. That means some of our current training camp participants should make the team for at least a few weeks. Who stands to benefit from this situation?
Clearly, the defensive line has taken the biggest hit with both Irving and Moore out. They still have eight guys to work with; DeMarcus Lawrence, Benson Mayowa, Charles Tapper, Taco Charlton at defensive end, and then Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Cedric THornton, and Stephen Paea at tackle. That's certainly enough to get through a few games. Keep in mind that linebacker Kyle Wilber can also play some defensive end.
Dallas could use the roster spots on some extra depth and rotation pieces. Prospects Lenny Jones and Lewis Neal have had some positive reports at defensive end. There are also seventh-round picks Joey Ivie and Jordan Carrell to consider at defensive tackle. The Cowboys could give any of these guys some extra weeks on the roster while waiting for Irving and Moore to come back.
However, with eight guys still in play and Wilber as an emergency option, Dallas could use those roster spots elsewhere. They don't have to stick to nine or ten defensive linemen as if satisfying a quota; the decisions should come down to talent and ability to contribute.
At cornerback, Nolan Carroll's expected absence will likely be filled by second-round pick Chidobe Awuzie. Fellow rookie Jourdan Lewis should also be in the mix, likely rotating in and perhaps even passing Awuzie before we get to Week One. The Cowboys shouldn't have to make any moves to cover themselves at the top of the CB depth chart.
Like with the defensive line, the effect of Carroll's suspension will be felt at the bottom of the roster. Rookie Marquez White will almost certainly make the team now, if he wasn't already. The Cowboys can at least postpone making a decision on him for a few weeks if they have any thoughts of trying to get him to the practice squad.
The major beneficiary could be Leon McFadden. The former third-round pick in 2013 played in nine games for Dallas last year due to injuries with Orlando Scandrick and Morris Claiborne. With Nolan Carroll gone, McFadden could stick around a player with league experience and some familiarity in the Cowboys system. It may not last beyond a couple of weeks, but it's better than nothing.
We may have already seen the major fallout of the Damien Wilson incident with the return of veteran Justin Durant. Dallas re-signed the 31-year-old linebacker just a few weeks after Wilson's arrest.
Durant is capable of playing all three positions and could start at Wilson's expected role of SAM linebacker. If someone else gets that job, Durant provides valuable depth anywhere you need him.
Given its severity and recency, Wilson's case and any NFL investigation may not be resolved by the start of the season. It's possible that Damien will be with the team in Week One but then wind up suspended sometime during the year. It could even drag out into next offseason and a suspension in 2018.
The timing of Durant's return may have been coincidental; giving a veteran some time off and bringing him back just before the start of camp. Perhaps they were already planning to make that call before Wilson's arrest. In that case, a roster spot may have opened up for someone we're not so familiar with. Prospect John Lotulelei has been the most talked-about of the unknown linebackers.
While I have almost zero concern at this point for Elliott actually getting suspended, we have to mention the signing of Ronnie Hillman and the potential impact of something happening with Zeke. Some have tried to suggest that the Hillman signing was due to the Cowboys' concerns about losing Elliott to start the year.
I don't see that at all. I think adding Hillman has more to do with the departure of Lucky Whitehead; a speed player who can run some of the plays as Lucky and also provide you a kick return option. It's also related to the release of injured RB Jahad Thomas, who was a similar type of player. Hillman can give them some of what Lance Dunbar used to, which neither Alfred Morris or Rod Smith can offer.
If anyone would benefit from an Elliott suspension it's probably Morris. I don't see him sticking around as a third RB behind Zeke and Darren McFadden, but he could be more valuable if he'd the number-two back for a while. You can justify his lack of special teams ability in that case.